Britain: Government figures reveal that many towns are developing schools that are overwhelmingly white, Asian or black
A remarkable picture of how Britain is 'sleepwalking' towards US-style segregation of schools along racial lines is highlighted today by government figures that reveal many towns are developing schools that are overwhelmingly white, Asian or black.
A majority of pupils in many areas of the country - particularly in deprived former mill towns in the north of England - have little contact with children from different ethnic backgrounds, even though they live in close proximity.
The figures are bound to raise fresh concerns about the phenomenon of 'white flight', where some families move area to remove their children from schools where there is an intake is predominantly Asian children. The split in communities can also lead to increased racial tensions.
According to the Department for Education and Skills, Blackburn with Darwen council, recently the subject of a BBC Panorama documentary on the parallel lives led by different communities, is one of the most divided boroughs. Four secondary schools out of nine there attract more than 90 per cent of their pupils from just one community.
The Tories last night outlined a dramatic plan to reverse the segregation - setting targets to ensure white and Asian pupils are educated together at any academies set up in northern towns such as Blackburn.
David Willetts, the shadow education secretary, told The Observer: 'There are towns which have been divided into two where social, ethnic and religious divisions are all aligned and create enormous tensions. Schools in these towns are becoming more and more segregated. One way to tackle them is, if you're creating an academy, you set a target that it should take its students from both communities.'
His remarks came after new government figures illustrate the recent warning by Jack Straw, the Commons leader and MP for Blackburn, that people are 'breathing the same air but walking past each other'.
In Straw's borough, there are three overwhelmingly white schools - Darwen Vale High (95.5 per cent white), Darwen Moorland High (91.6 per cent white) and St Bede's Roman Catholic High (96.3 per cent white). The segregation is matched on the other side of the racial divide. At Beardwood High, 94.5 per cent of pupils are Asian. Just 2.5 per cent of the school's pupils are white. Only one school in the borough reflects the ethnic breakdown of a community whose population is 70.5 per cent white and 26.5 per cent Asian. Of the pupils who go to Witton Park High, 71.7 per cent are white and 26.6 per cent are Asian.
The position in Bradford, scene of race riots in 2001, is not much better. Of 28 secondary schools, 10 have 90 per cent or more pupils from one community.
Bradford's population is 62.8 per cent white and 32.7 per cent Asian. At Ilkley Grammar School, 93.8 per cent of pupils are white, with just 2.3 per cent from the city's Asian community. Of the pupils attending Belle Vue Boys' School, 95.6 per cent are Asian and just 1.2 per cent are white.
Stephen Byers, a former schools minister, told The Observer: 'These figures show that in parts of the country we are sleepwalking towards the segregation of schools on racial grounds. With no public debate, we are enshrining division and discrimination at an early age. Separate communities are growing up alongside each other with little or any common point of reference.
'As a result people, living in neighbouring communities could for all intents and purposes be on a different planet from each other. If we want to see the development of an inclusive and healthy society, this is an issue that needs to be addressed and not simply ignored.'
Experts say there are many reasons why pupils tend to flock to schools dominated by their own community. Faith schools, for instance, are unlikely to attract many pupils from across the ethnic divide.
Ted Cantle, who wrote the landmark 'parallel lives' report following the 2001 riots in Burnley, Oldham and Bradford, told The Observer: 'There is some evidence that once a school starts to divide it does reach a tipping point where one side or the other feels this school is no longer for them.'
Simon Burgess, professor of economics at Bristol University, said: 'If you compare segregation in schools with the ethnic segregation in the neighbourhoods around that school then the segregation in schools is higher than that in the surrounding neighbourhoods.'
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